Indian Ocean islanders lose bid to return home

October 22nd, 2008 - 9:52 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 22 (IANS) Britain’s highest court of law Wednesday dashed the hopes of thousands of people of returning to their Indian Ocean home of Chagos Islands after being expelled some 40 years ago for strategic reasons.The House of Lords, by a 3-2 verdict, upheld a last-ditch attempt by the British government to block their return to Chagos.

Diego Garcia, one of the islands in the archipelago, has been leased by Britain to the US and now serves as an air force base that has been used most recently in the Iraq war and the Afghanistan conflict.

Britain, which owns the islands, expelled their native populations between 1967 and 1973, settling them in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Wednesday’s verdict upholding the government claim that allowing the islanders to return would seriously affect defence and international security brings to a close a decades-long attempt by the Chagossians to return home.

Lower courts ruled in 2000 that the Chagossians could return to 65 of the islands, but not Diego Garcia. But in 2004 the British government used the royal prerogative, which does away with the need for a parliamentary debate, to nullify the ruling.

The move was overturned by the High Court and Court of Appeal in 2007, prompting the government in appeal before the House of Lords in June.

The islanders and their descendants are said to number around 5,000 but only some 1,000 are said to be looking to return.

A spokesman for the Chagos islanders said in a statement before Wednesday’s ruling: “Forty years ago, in December 1966, the Harold Wilson Labour government gave away our homeland, including Diego Garcia, which has been given to the US government to use as a military base.

“The whole Chagossian population was forcibly removed from our homes, our animals were killed and we were dumped, mainly in the slums of Mauritius. We have been treated like slaves.”

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